Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

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Friday, February 27, 2015

"Obama backs pot decriminalization efforts"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new CNN article reporting on some notable new comments from President Obama concerning marijuana law, policy and reform.  Here are the comments:

President Barack Obama said states could overhaul their laws to discourage marijuana the same way "we've been able to discourage a lot of other bad things that people do" -- like using tobacco.

His comments to Kansas City-based KMBC during a series of interviews Thursday afternoon with local television stations, the same day that Washington implemented a new law decriminalizing the use of small amounts of marijuana over the objections of some congressional Republicans.

"I think that we have to separate out legalization -- there's a lot of concern about drug abuse of any sort by our children and the general population -- versus the heavy criminalization of non-violent drug offenses," Obama said. "And I think that a lot of states are taking a look to see, do we have proportionality in terms of how we are penalizing the recreational user."

He said the United States has managed to discourage the use of other harmful products like tobacco without stiff jail sentences. "I think that's what every state across the country, including some very conservative states that don't have a lot of tolerance for marijuana, are looking at," Obama said, "is do we want to be throwing people in jail for five, 10, 15 years if they're not major drug dealers but they're using a substance that's probably not good for them but is probably not hurting too many other people?"

February 27, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Learning so much already even in first few hours of first Tribal Marijuana Conference

ImagesI feel extraordinarily fortunate to have been invited to participate the nation’s first ever Tribal Marijuana Conference taking place as I write this post from a huge ballroom at the Tulalip Resort Casino, just North of Seattle.   This post from Canna Law Blog discusses the basics, and this agenda highlights all the informed speakers in the mix who are already making this an amazing event in which I am learning so much.  

For example, right now on the podium now are Thomas Carr, the Boulder City Attorney, and Pete Holmes, Seattle City Attorney, are providing an extraordinary set of insights about local enforcement of local laws in the first two recreational marijuana states. Carr also reported that, because Dunkin' Donuts does not have a store in Boulder, it is easier to get marijuana (and munchies) in Boulder than Dunkin' Donuts (and Munchkins) in some parts of Colorado. Of course, that should not worry public health advocates too much, given that there is good reason to believe Munchkins are perhaps much more addictive and harmful than marijuana.

1403002903506This local article, headlined "Indian tribes looks to marijuana as new moneymaker," highlights some reasons why there are hundreds of persons at this event:

After making hundreds of billions of dollars running casinos, American Indian tribes are getting a good whiff of another potential moneymaker: marijuana.

The first Tribal Marijuana Conference is set for Friday on the Tulalip Indian Reservation in Washington state as Indian Country gets ready to capitalize on the nation’s expanding pot industry. Organizers said representatives from more than 50 tribes in at least 20 states have registered, with total attendance expected to surpass 300....

Robert Odawi Porter, one of the conference organizers and the former president of the Seneca Nation of Indians in New York, said tribes have “a tremendous economic diversification opportunity to consider” with marijuana commerce. He said the event would bring together “trailblazers” in the industry who will help tribal leaders understand the complex issues involved.

While it’s unknown how many tribes ultimately will seek to take advantage of the change, one analyst warned that any tribe expecting to hit the jackpot might be in for a surprise, particularly as the supply of legal pot in the U.S. increases. “People keep forgetting it’s a competitive market,” said Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, who served as Washington state’s top pot consultant. “And it’s cheap to grow.”

In Washington state, where retail pot stores opened in July, Kleiman said pot growers who sold their product for $21 a gram only a few months ago are now getting $4 a gram. “The price of marijuana is the price of illegality,” he said.

But the issue is generating plenty of buzz among tribal leaders. On Monday, tribal officials at the National Congress of American Indians winter meeting in Washington, D.C., attended a closed breakout session with two U.S. attorneys to discuss the implications of legalized marijuana....

Even though the talks are in the early stages, many tribal officials are pleased that the Obama administration is giving them the power to proceed. “The position of the administration is a strong indication of their commitment and acknowledgment of tribes’ sovereignty, jurisdiction and governmental authority,” said W. Ron Allen, chairman and CEO of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe in Washington state.

Marijuana is a divisive issue among tribes, with many tribal officials worried about high rates of drug addiction among American Indians. Last year, the Yakama Nation decided to ban marijuana from its reservation in south central Washington state. The Tulalip Tribe, located just north of Seattle, voted to work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Justice to try to legalize medical marijuana.

Legalization opponents fear that more tribes will want to begin selling marijuana without understanding the risks. “I worry about this being a big expansion and I worry that the potential consequences – health, safety and legal – have not been properly communicated to them,” said Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group.

Regardless of what tribes decide to do, he warned that the situation could change with the election of a new president in 2016. “I don’t see this ending well for anyone, especially if a new administration decides to enforce federal law,” Sabet said. “The thing people should remember is that marijuana is still illegal – on tribal lands and otherwise – even if the law isn’t being equally enforced.”

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, another of the planned speakers at Friday’s conference, said allowing tribes to legalize marijuana will move pot sales “into the light of day.” And he predicted there would be little change in the amount of pot sold on reservations. “Here’s the worst-case scenario: that a tribe just decides they want to be the epicenter of marijuana production, they want to undercut the state system, they want to be a mecca, if you will,” Holmes said. “I’ve heard no tribe say that. . . . We seem to be able to co-exist quite nicely.”

Kleiman said the tax issue would be one of the toughest to sort out as tribes ponder whether to join the industry. “It’s a big deal for people who are trying to make sense of marijuana policy, because if the tribes are exempt from state law, then the states can’t actually tax and regulate,” Kleiman said. “That would be catastrophic. It’s not a big deal for the tribes because there’s no money in it.”

February 27, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fascinating (federal? federalism?) fracas unfolding over DC marijuana reform inside the Beltway

Images (4)As reported in this local article, headlined "Washington DC Law Legalizing Marijuana Goes Into Effect," an interesting fight is developing among politicians over marijuana reform law and practices in the District of Columbia.  Here are the basics:

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser defied congressional Republicans and implemented D.C.’s new local law allowing its residents to smoke marijuana. In implementing the new pot laws Thursday, Bowser has rebuffed two influential House Republicans who’d warned her that she’d be breaking federal law — and risking retribution.

“We would encourage the Congress to not be so concerned with overturning what 7-in-10 voters said should be the law in the District of Columbia,” Bowser said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Bowser and Washington police implemented a measure approved by D.C. voters in November allowing Washington residents to possess up to two ounces of pot. The allowance applies only to those over 21. In addition, D.C. residents can grow up to six pot plants in their own yards. Buying and selling pot are still illegal, as is smoking in public places. But people can transfer up to one ounce to another person — just not for money.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, said in a letter Tuesday that the city would be violating a spate of federal laws if it went forward with Bowser’s plan to implement the new pro-pot measure.

“We strongly suggest you reconsider your position,” the two wrote to Bowser — while, in a thinly veiled suggestion that there would be consequences for ignoring them, pointing to House rules that give Chaffetz’s panel broad investigative authority.

Bowser, though, brushed Chaffetz and Meadows back on Wednesday, saying they should worry about bigger problems — like funding the Department of Homeland Security, which is set to shut down at week’s end if Congress doesn’t act.

And she took a shot at Republicans who have suggested she could wind up in jail for breaking federal law — even though Congress has no powers to prosecute her. “A lot of reasonable people have a different view of this issue,” she said. “I have a lot of things to do here in the District of Columbia, and me being in jail wouldn’t be a good thing.”

It’s the latest example of the strain between a heavily Democratic city that is ultimately controlled by a Republican-dominated Congress — which couldn’t stop similar marijuana legalization pushes in Colorado and Washington state, but is trying to use its power of the purse to do so this time.

Chaffetz and Meadows pointed to a provision included in a massive spending bill approved by Congress in December that prohibited Washington from legalizing marijuana, or cutting any drug possession penalties.

Bowser has insisted that the district’s measure was enacted before that December vote. But the two Republicans noted that any bill in Washington can’t become local law until it’s been through a 30-day layover period before Congress. Until that happens, they said, the measure can’t be considered enacted — which in this case means it “was not enacted prior to the language in the continuing resolution preventing it from moving forward.”

“If you decide to move forward tomorrow with the legalization of marijuana in the District, you will be doing so in knowing and willful violation of the law,” Chaffetz and Meadows wrote.

February 26, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Newest (and most interesting?) laboratory experiment with marijuana reform officially underway in Alaska

DownloadAs detailed in this lengthy AP piece, headlined "No street parties, no citations: Alaska quietly ushers in legalized marijuana," the state nicknamed The Last Frontier is now an important and especially interesting new frontier in the state-level laboratories of democracy experimenting with recreational marijuana reforms. Here are the basics:

Alaska on Tuesday became the third U.S. state to legalize marijuana. But the historic day passed with little public acknowledgement in a state with a savvy marijuana culture that has seen varying degrees of legal acceptance of the drug for 40 years.

Supporters said the day was a milestone, comparing it to the end of Prohibition. But unlike in Colorado and Washington state, there were no street parties and public smoking displays in Alaska's biggest cities.

Dolly Fleck-Phelps, a Kenai resident with an ancillary marijuana business, said she thought people would look back on the day as a turning point for Alaska. "Absolutely this is history in the making," Fleck-Phelps said. "This is the opening of the door. Now it's time for the real work to begin."

Legalization marked the end of a 43-year political battle for Bill Parker, 70. The Anchorage man, who was listed as a sponsor of the initiative, first banded together with a group of young Democrats elected to the state House of Representatives to introduce a legalization bill in 1972. "Gee, there weren't enough votes to worry about," the retired deputy commissioner of corrections said.

Parker's hopes for legal weed dwindled as he saw Alaska become more Republican and more conservative over the years. He said perhaps the marijuana vote marks the end of that pendulum swing. Now that pot is legal, Parker is ready to take a pause to enjoy the moment, but he said he won't stop fighting. "Well, it makes me feel good. It's not over, of course. The initiative passed by between 5 and 6 percent, so 40 some percent of the people voted against it. Not all of them are ready to lay down and go along," Parker said....

Alaska has had a complicated history with marijuana over the years. The Alaska Supreme Court in 1975 said personal marijuana possession was protected under the state constitution's right-to-privacy clause. In 1998, voters legalized medicinal marijuana. But over the years, state lawmakers twice criminalized any possession, creating an odd legal limbo, and never created rules for medical marijuana dispensaries to operate.

Placing Alaska in the same category as Washington state and Colorado with legal marijuana was the goal of the pro-pot coalition that included libertarians, rugged individualists and small-government Republicans who prize the privacy rights enshrined in the Alaska state constitution....

As of Tuesday, adult Alaskans can not only keep and use pot, they can transport, grow it and give it away. A second phase, creating a regulated and taxed marijuana market, won't start until 2016 at the earliest. That's about the same timeline for Oregon, where voters approved legalizing marijuana the same day as Alaska did. But the law there doesn't go into effect until July 1.

Police throughout Alaska were prepared to hand out $100 citations for anyone caught smoking pot in public, but departments stretching more than 1,100 miles from Nome on the state's western coast to Juneau in the southeast panhandle hadn't issued a ticket during the day. "We haven't even received a call or complaint about anybody doing it," said Steve Goetz, deputy chief for the University of Alaska Fairbanks police department....

Others remained concerned on Tuesday about the details not yet worked out regarding legalization. When the public voted last November to legalize marijuana use by adults in private places, voters left many of the details to lawmakers and regulators to sort out. Elisabeth Schafer, a Sitka resident visiting Juneau for work, said she was worried about the state developing a workable system of regulations. "I just wish we had waited longer as a state," Schafer said. "I don't want to blaze the way for other states."

Among the questions remaining on Tuesday were what public places consumption was prohibited in, and how the regulations for a new commercial industry would look. The initiative bans smoking in public, but it doesn't define what that means, and lawmakers left the question to the alcohol regulatory board. There were missteps even as the board decided pot can't be smoked in places generally accessible to the public, like parks, schools or on the street in Alaska.

Board members met via a teleconference Tuesday, but it started late because organizers gave out the wrong telephone number. The call originated from the board's Anchorage office. However, a locked gate blocked access to the meeting site.

I think Alsaka is an especially interesting state to watch closely in the months and years ahead because it is such a unique state in so many ways: its size, small population, history of libertarian/conservative values and its relative isolation from the rest of the US. Also, Alaska as part of the second set of jurisdictions legalization recreational marijuana, can and should be able to draw some regulatory lessons from Colorado and Washington as it creates a new regulatory structure for a commercial marijuana industry. And, especially as debate over federal marijuana reform begins to heat up in Congress in the months and years ahead, Alaska's two GOP senators might provide to be especially important national players within the establishment of the political party that has been recently most resistant to reform of federal criminal drug laws.

February 25, 2015 in Current Affairs, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 23, 2015

What might be the modern public health story if marijuana had been kept legal and tobacco cigarettes widely banned?

Students in my marijuana seminar know that I think there is much to think about and learn from the history of (alcohol) Prohibition in the United States and the history of marijuana prohibition.   But I have now learned from this fascinating new Jacob Sullum piece that there was an interesting US history surrounding cigarette prohibition that also should be a lesson for modern marijuana advocates.   The lengthy Sullum piece, which is headlined "Today's Pothead Is Yesterday's Cigarette Fiend," should be read in full, but these passages are what engendered the question in the title of this post:

At first the anti-cigarette campaign, which had close ties to the temperance movement, focused on restricting children's access.  By 1890, 26 states had passed laws forbidding cigarette sales to minors, but many children continued to smoke.  Led by Lucy Page Gaston, a former teacher from Illinois whose career as a social reformer began in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the anti-cigarette crusaders next insisted that complete prohibition was necessary to protect the youth of America.  Between 1893 and 1921, 14 states and one territory (Oklahoma) enacted laws banning the sale of cigarettes, and in some cases possession as well.

Upholding Tennessee's ban in 1898, the state Supreme Court declared that cigarettes "are wholly noxious and deleterious to health. Their use is always harmful; never beneficial. They possess no virtue, but are inherently bad, bad only. They find no true commendation for merit or usefulness in any sphere. On the contrary, they are widely condemned as pernicious altogether. Beyond any question, their every tendency is toward the impairment of physical health and mental vigor."

In contrast to contemporary anti-smoking activists, who talk almost exclusively about the habit's effect on the body, early critics of the cigarette were just as concerned about its impact on the mind.  In the 1904 edition of Our Bodies and How We Live, an elementary school textbook, Albert F. Blaisdell warned: "The cells of the brain may become poisoned from tobacco.  The ideas may lack clearness of outline.  The will power may be weakened, and it may be an effort to do the routine duties of life…. The memory may also be impaired."

Blaisdell reported that "the honors of the great schools, academies, and colleges are very largely taken by the abstainers from tobacco," adding, "The reason for this is plain.  The mind of the habitual user of tobacco is apt to lose its capacity for study or successful effort.  This is especially true of boys and young men.  The growth and development of the brain having been once retarded, the youthful user of tobacco has established a permanent drawback which may hamper him all his life.  The keenness of his mental perception may be dulled and his ability to seize and hold an abstract thought may be impaired."

In the 1908 textbook The Human Body and Health, biologist Alvin Davison agreed that tobacco "prevents the brain cells from developing to their full extent and results in a slow and dull mind." He added, "At Harvard University during fifty years no habitual user of tobacco ever graduated at the head of his class."

These themes were taken up by prominent, widely admired Americans who were troubled by a cluster of traits that would later be associated with marijuana.  "No boy or man can expect to succeed in this world to a high position and continue the use of cigarettes," Philadelphia Athletics Manager Connie Mack wrote in 1913.  Biologist David Starr Jordan, the first president of Stanford University, concurred. "The boy who smokes cigarettes need not be anxious about his future," he said. "He has none."...

In the decades that followed, the cigarette's reputation underwent a complete reversal. Far from sabotaging intellectual achievement and economic productivity, it was seen as facilitating them through the stimulating action of nicotine.  But the dull, listless underachievers described by Ford and Edison reappeared in the 1960s, smoking something else.

Testifying before Congress in 1970, Harvard psychiatrist Dana Farnsworth noted that scientists had come up with a name for the condition that prevented marijuana users from reaching their potential. "I am very much concerned about what has come to be called the 'amotivational syndrome,'" Farnsworth said. ...

A decade and a half later, Robert DuPont declared that "millions of young people are living as shadows of themselves, empty shells of what they could have been and would have been without pot."  In 1989, his first year as the nation's first official "drug czar," Bill Bennett explained how smoking pot affects young people: "It means they don't study.  It causes what is called 'amotivational syndrome,' where they are just not motivated to get up and go to work."

It is plausible, of course, that smoking a lot of pot in high school might interfere with academic performance, just as heavy drinking might. But Farnsworth, DuPont, and Bennett are describing something more than that: a long-lasting impairment of the will that prevents cannabis consumers from being all that they can be....

Despite its continuing appeal as a propaganda theme, the idea that smoking pot makes people unproductive has never been substantiated.  In their 1997 book Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts, the sociologist Lynn Zimmer and the pharmacologist John P. Morgan examined the evidence and concluded: "There is nothing in these data to suggest that marijuana reduces people's motivation to work, their employability, or their capacity to earn wages.  Studies have consistently found that marijuana users earn wages similar to or higher than nonusers."

A 1999 report from the National Academy of Sciences noted that amotivational syndrome "is not a medical diagnosis, but it has been used to describe young people who drop out of social activities and show little interest in school, work, or other goal‑directed activity.  When heavy marijuana use accompanies these symptoms, the drug is often cited as the cause, but there are no convincing data to demonstrate a causal relationship between marijuana smoking and these behavioral characteristics."...

Like the symptoms of cigarette use that worried Ford and Edison, the symptoms of marijuana use are often hard to distinguish from the symptoms of adolescence. Peggy Mann's 1985 book Marijuana Alert, which Nancy "Just Say No" Reagan described in the foreword as "a true story about a drug that is taking America captive," is full of anecdotes about sweet, obedient, courteous, hard-working kids transformed by marijuana into rebellious, lazy, moody, insolent, bored, apathetic, sexually promiscuous monsters. "It was very easy for parents to blame marijuana for all the problems that their children were having, rather than to accept any responsibility," observes Harvard psychiatrist Lester Grinspoon, a leading authority on marijuana. "It became a very convenient way of dealing with and understanding various kinds of problems."...

Current fears about marijuana and other illegal drugs, like fears about cigarettes at the beginning of the last century, reflect the sort of worries that reappear in every generation. Parents want their children to be smart, to do well in school, to respect authority, and to become productive, responsible adults.  The dull, lazy, rebellious, and possibly criminal teenager―the cigarette fiend or pothead — is every parent's nightmare. Adults who have no children of their own worry that other people's kids will become tomorrow's parasites or predators, bringing decline and disorder.

Despite all the alarm that drug scares seem to generate, projecting these fears onto physical objects can be reassuring: Just keep the kids away from tobacco or marijuana (or alcohol or MDMA), we are implicitly told, and they will turn out OK. As symbols of all the things that might go wrong on the path from birth to maturity, drugs offer what every adult confronted by a troublesome teenager longs for: the illusion of control.

A few prior related posts:

February 23, 2015 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Marijuana's Pauline Sabin?: "85-year-old Houston woman fighting to legalize marijuana"

I just got finished watching the last segment of the wonderful PBS Prohibition documentary, which stresses the role of  Pauline Sabin, the first woman to sit on the Republican National Committee and the founder of the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform, who helped drive the movement to repeal the 18th amendment.  With that history fresh in mind, I found especially interesting this news report from Texas which has the headline quoted in the title of this post.  Here are excerpts:

"I've always been pretty outspoken," said Ann Lee. At 85 years old, Ann Lee looks like anyone's grandmother. "I don't know whether it's my age, the white hair, what is it, but it does seem to strike a chord," said Lee.

But don't let the white hair fool you. She's a fiery Republican who believes you have the right to use marijuana. "It's just me, I believe in this," said Lee.

For Lee, it's personal. She wasn't always a supporter of weed. That changed when her son was bound to a wheelchair, and needed it to treat his condition. "We realized marijuana wasn't the weed of the devil which I had been known to say," said Lee.

She and her husband Bob fought to legalize weed since then. Bob died last week. Now it's her job to finish what they started together. "This is heady stuff for this lady," said Lee. "I've been an activist for many years, but I've never had the response that I'm now getting."

She knows more about weed than someone half her age, and even has the occasional edible. Activists call her the perfect weapon in the marijuana reform movement. "It's not Republican to support prohibition," said Lee.

Some prior related posts:

February 20, 2015 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, February 16, 2015

"Did George Washington Use Medical Marijuana?"

1424099502018.cachedThe title of this post is the headline of this notable Daily Beast piece, which seems especially timely this Presidents Day.  Here are excerpts:

Before “Choom Gang” Obama or “I didn’t inhale” Clinton, the first president likely smoked pot.

Presidential aspirants smoking pot, states growing hemp for industrial use — 2015 sounds a lot like 1776. In fact, America’s first president may have been one of the nation’s original users of medicinal marijuana.

George Washington’s rotting teeth and the dentures that replaced them—made of hippopotamus ivory, gold springs, and brass screws—caused enormous pain, which some believe he alleviated with weed as evidenced from a passage from one of the president’s letters: “Began to separate the male from female plants rather too late...Pulling up the (male) hemp. Was too late for the blossom hemp by three weeks or a month.”

The implication is that the Father of the Nation was going for female plants with higher THC content. However, it’s most likely that the female plants he refers to were used for seeds to grow more hemp and the male hemp plants were pulled up for fibers....

The men who signed the Charters of Freedom may have taken the edge off the Revolution with the help of drugs, too. Hemp farmer Jefferson and paper maker Benjamin Franklin were ambassadors to France during the initial surge of the hashish vogue.

Thomas Jefferson brought a variety of cannabis seeds from Europe to America at great personal risk, but there is no direct evidence he ever used the ensuing crops for recreational purposes. Benjamin Franklin isn’t known to have smoked weed but he did use laudanum, a mixture of alcohol and opium, to lessen the pain from gout, kidney stones, and other ailments.

James Monroe allegedly began smoking cannabis as Ambassador to France and maintained the habit into old age. Andrew Jackson, Franklin Pierce and Zachary Taylor are rumored to have smoked with their troops. In one letter to his family, Pierce complained that hemp was ‘about the only good thing’ about the Mexican war. Presidents remained mostly sober from Pierce to Dwight Eisenhower, but John F. Kennedy made up for lost time.

In addition to dozens of painkillers and stimulants, JFK allegedly experimented with marijuana to deal with severe back pain, according to a few written accounts, including John F. Kennedy: A Biography...

There is then another lull, until the political ascendancy of the baby-boom generation, when Mary Jane becomes almost ubiquitous. On the Democratic side, we have Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, John Edwards and Barack Obama. Astonishingly, every Democratic presidential nominee since 1992 is on record as having smoked pot: Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Barack Obama.

It’s a bipartisan affair, too. George W. Bush admitted to past marijuana use in a recorded interview with a friend. Newt Gingrich told the Wall Street Journal in 1996 he used to toke up. Even Rick Santorum admitted to smoking in college. Ditto, Sarah Palin when marijuana wasn’t illegal in Alaska.

No president was probably as prodigious a marijuana smoker than Obama, who was part of the “Choom Gang” in high school and freely admitted to smoking weed (and using cocaine) in his youth. So, from our first president, growing cannabis and buying replacement teeth from his black slaves, to the current president.

February 16, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Was Jeb Bush a significant marijuana dealer in high school?

The question in the title of this post is my first reaction to a section of this lengthy Boston Globe piece about Jeb Bush’s “troubled” high school years at Phillips Academy in Andover in the late 1960s. Here are some excerpts from the piece that prompt the query above:

In the fall of 1967, when a 14-year-old Texan named John Ellis Bush arrived on the bucolic campus of Phillips Academy in Andover, great expectations preceded him. Jeb, as he was known, should have been an easy fit in that elite and ivied world. His much-accomplished father and his older brother had both gone to Andover; no one was surprised that Jeb had followed suit.

But this Bush almost ran aground in those first, formative prep school days. He bore little resemblance to his father, a star on many fronts at Andover, and might have been an even worse student than brother George. Classmates said he smoked a notable amount of pot — as many did — and sometimes bullied smaller students....

Jeb Bush, in an interview for this story, recalled it as one of the most difficult times of his life, while acknowledging that he made it harder by initially breaking a series of rules. “I drank alcohol and I smoked marijuana when I was at Andover,” Bush said, both of which could have led to expulsion. “It was pretty common.” He said he had no recollection of bullying and said he was surprised to be perceived that way by some....

One of those who did get to know Bush in these early days was Peter Tibbetts. The connection, he said, was pot. The first time Tibbetts smoked marijuana, he said, was with Bush and a few other classmates in the woods near Pemberton Cottage. Then, a few weeks later, Tibbetts said he smoked hashish — a cannabis product typically stronger than pot — in Jeb’s dormitory room.

“The first time I really got stoned was in Jeb’s room,” Tibbetts said. “He had a portable stereo with removable speakers. He put on Steppenwolf for me.” As the rock group’s signature song, “Magic Carpet Ride,’’ blared from the speakers, Tibbetts said he smoked hash with Bush.

He said he once bought hashish from Bush but stressed, in a follow-up e-mail, “Please bear in mind that I was seeking the hash. It wasn’t as if he was a dealer, though he did suggest I take up cigarettes so that I could hold my hits better, after that first joint.”

Bush previously has acknowledged what he called his “stupid” and “wrong” use of marijuana. In the years since, he has opposed efforts to legalize marijuana for medicinal or recreational use.

I tend to presume that most persons who were teenagers in the late 1960s had some history as a marijuana user, and thus I was not at all surprised when I first saw headlines making much of Jeb Bush's history as a pot consumer. But I think the fact that at least one person reports having bought hashish from Jeb Bush back then make this story at least a bit more significant and leads me to wonder just how much product Jeb might have been in the habit of moving back then.

February 4, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 12, 2015

"Losing marijuana business, Mexican cartels push heroin and meth"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable lengthy new Washington Post article.  Here are excerpts:

Mexican traffickers are sending a flood of cheap heroin and methamphetamine across the U.S. border, the latest drug seizure statistics show, in a new sign that America’s marijuana decriminalization trend is upending the North American narcotics trade.

The amount of cannabis seized by U.S. federal, state and local officers along the boundary with Mexico has fallen 37 percent since 2011, a period during which American marijuana consumers have increasingly turned to the more potent, higher-grade domestic varieties cultivated under legal and quasi-legal protections in more than two dozen U.S. states.

Made-in-the-USA marijuana is quickly displacing the cheap, seedy, hard-packed version harvested by the bushel in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains. That has prompted Mexican drug farmers to plant more opium poppies, and the sticky brown and black “tar” heroin they produce is channeled by traffickers into the U.S. communities hit hardest by prescription painkiller abuse, off­ering addicts a $10 alternative to $80-a-pill oxycodone.

“Legalization of marijuana for recreational use has given U.S. consumers access to high-quality marijuana, with genetically improved strains, grown in greenhouses,” said Raul Benitez-Manaut, a drug-war expert at Mexico’s National Autonomous University. “That’s why the Mexican cartels are switching to heroin and meth.” U.S. law enforcement agents seized 2,181 kilograms of heroin last year coming from Mexico, nearly three times the amount confiscated in 2009.

Methamphetamine, too, has surged, mocking the Hollywood image of backwoods bayou labs and “Breaking Bad” chemists. The reality, according to Drug Enforcement Administration figures, is that 90 percent of the meth on U.S. streets is cooked in Mexico, where precursor chemicals are far easier to obtain.

“The days of the large-scale U.S. meth labs are pretty much gone, given how much the Mexicans have taken over production south of the border and distribution into the United States,” said Lawrence Payne, a DEA spokesman. “Their product is far superior, cheaper and more pure.” Last year, 15,803 kilograms of the drug was seized along the border, up from 3,076 kilos in 2009....

Mexican cartels continue to deploy people as “mules” strapped with 50-pound marijuana backpacks to hike through the Arizona borderlands and send commercial trucks into Texas with bales of shrink-wrapped cannabis so big they need to be taken out on a forklift. But the profitability of the marijuana trade has slumped on falling demand for Mexico’s “brick weed,” so called because it is crushed into airtight bundles for transport across the border. Drug farmers in the Sierra Madre say that they can barely make money planting mota anymore....

The cartels, and consumers, are turning away from cocaine, too. Last year, U.S. agents confiscated 11,917 kilograms of cocaine along the Mexico border, down from 27,444 kilos in 2011. This reflects lower demand for the drug in the United States, experts say, as well as a cartel business preference for heroin and meth. Those two substances can be cheaply produced in Mexico, unlike cocaine, which is far pricier, and therefore riskier, because it must be smuggled from South America....

Heroin and meth are far easier to transport and conceal than marijuana. Especially worrisome to U.S. officials is a growing trend of more border-crossing pedestrians carrying the drugs strapped under their clothing or hidden in body cavities. “The criminals are trying to blend in among the legitimate travelers, who are 99 percent of the individuals crossing through here,” said Aki, the San Ysidro port director. “That’s the hard part for us.”...

In recent years, Mexican cartels also have begun producing higher-value “white” heroin, typically associated with traffickers from Colombia or Asia, according to DEA officials. “The Mexicans are evolving in their production abilities and getting more sophisticated,” said Payne, the DEA spokesman. “It’s not just black tar anymore.”...

The United States has an estimated 600,000 heroin users, Payne said — a threefold increase in the past five years. But that number is dwarfed by the estimated 10 million Americans who abuse prescription painkillers. Those addicts are the prime target for the booming heroin business. A U.S. crackdown on prescription opiates has driven up the price for drugs such as OxyContin and Percocet, enticing desperate addicts to switch to cheap heroin to fend off withdrawal symptoms.

The profile of U.S. heroin addiction is also changing, said Phil Herschman, chief clinical officer with the CRC Health Group, which operates 170 treatment centers in 30 U.S. states. “Now, we’re seeing housewives coming in who had been addicted to Vicodin for two or three years before switching to heroin, or adolescents who got hooked by snorting it, thinking it was safe, only to end up injecting themselves,” he said.

Advocates for marijuana reform frequently assert that legalization could and would help eliminate the profits reaped by drug cartels and the black market from illegal marijuana production and distribution. This article certainly provides support for this assertion.

January 12, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Rolling Stone details how marijuana reform is "leading a dramatic de-escalation in the War on Drugs"

DownloadThis astute, lengthy Rolling Stone article, headlined "The War on Drugs Is Burning Out," give special and justified attention to how modern marijuana reform is changing dramatically the modern drug was landscape. The full piece is a must-read, and here are excerpts:

The conservative wave of 2014 featured an unlikely, progressive undercurrent: In two states, plus the nation's capital, Americans voted convincingly to pull the plug on marijuana prohibition. Even more striking were the results in California, where voters overwhelmingly passed one of the broadest sentencing reforms in the nation, de-felonizing possession of hard drugs. One week later, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD announced an end to arrests for marijuana possession. It's all part of the most significant story in American drug policy since the passage of the 21st Amendment legalized alcohol in 1933: The people of this country are leading a dramatic de-escalation in the War on Drugs.

November's election results have teed up pot prohibition as a potent campaign issue for 2016. Notwithstanding the House GOP's contested effort to preserve pot prohibition in D.C., the flowering of the marijuana-legalization movement is creating space for a more rational and humane approach to adjudicating users of harder drugs, both on the state level and federally. "The door is open to reconsidering all of our drug laws," says Alison Holcomb, who led the pot-legalization push in Washington state in 2012, and has been tapped to direct the ACLU's new campaign against mass incarceration.

On the federal stage, the Justice Department continues to provide what Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance, calls "a discreet form of leadership" on state experiments in drug reform – giving tax-and-regulate marijuana laws broad latitude, and even declaring that Native American tribal governments can also experiment with marijuana law, opening a path for recreational pot on reservations in, potentially, dozens of states. Congress, in the same legislation that sought to derail D.C. legalization, carved out historic protections from federal prosecution for state-legal medical-marijuana operations....

Top drug reformers had been wary about putting marijuana initiatives on midterm election ballots – worried that younger, pot-friendly voters might stay home, dealing the anti-Drug War movement a costly setback. "The midterm electorate in 2014 represented a wave of anti-progressive, pro-conservative voters," says the ACLU's Holcomb. Voters under 30 comprised just 12 percent of the national electorate, while voters over 60 – seniors are the one demographic that strongly opposes legalization – made up a whopping 37 percent. Nonetheless, each legalization measure passed, easily. In red-state Alaska, 53 percent endorsed legal pot. In Oregon, the tally was 56 percent – 35,000 more votes than any statewide elected official received. In Washington, D.C., legalization romped with 65 percent of the vote, carrying 142 out of the city's 143 precincts....

The issue of pot could prove more complicated on the presidential stage in 2016, where the big question, says Holcomb, is: "Will Democrats grab the issue as strongly as Rand Paul?"

Among likely 2016 contenders, of either party, the Kentucky senator is the most progressive on marijuana. He's sponsored legislation to make medical marijuana fully legal in states that have adopted it. In the last election, Paul championed the right of D.C. voters to decide on legalization for themselves. Paul has also been a vocal advocate for decriminalization, decrying the practice of booking kids for cannabis. "I don't want to encourage people to do it," he has said. "I think even marijuana is a bad thing to do. But I also don't want to put people in jail who make a mistake."

If Paul were to face off in a contest with Hillary Clinton, pot could emerge as an unlikely wedge issue for the Republican – particularly in libertarian-leaning swing states like Arizona and Nevada, where legalization initiatives are expected. That's because Clinton has continued to talk like a 1990s drug warrior, recently fretting over the dangers of marijuana edibles to children in Colorado, and even declaring that "the feds should be attuned to the way that marijuana is still used as a gateway drug."...

Regardless of the final presidential matchup, pot initiatives in battleground states will make it impossible for the 2016 candidates to ignore, or to simply laugh off, the marijuana issue as they've done so often in the past, says Tom Angell, chairman of the advocacy group Marijuana Majority. "The road to the White House," he says, "travels through legal-marijuana territory."

January 8, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Brookings highlights "Eight Big Things to Watch" concerning marijuana policy in 2015

Via e-mail, I was alerted to this Brookings FixGov blog post by Brookings Fellow John Hudak titled "Marijuana Policy in 2015: Eight Big Things to Watch." The e-mail provided this helpful summary of various points made in the longer posting:

1)    Oregon, Alaska Plan & Prepare for Legal Marijuana: How well each of these state legislatures and alcohol regulatory bodies work together will determine the success or failure of marijuana policy in these states. As it borders Washington, Oregon’s commercial and regulatory choices will be particularly crucial in understanding to what extent states may strive for market advantages vis-à-vis bordering states.

2)    Identifying the Next States to Legalize: 2015 will show which states are serious about ballot initiatives in 2016.  It’s widely expected that California will advance an initiative and Florida might take another swing at approving medical marijuana, after falling just short of approval in 2014.

3)    Cannabis Policy & State Legislative Action: In some states, the battleground for enacting items like the legalization of recreational or medical marijuana is not the ballot box, but the state legislature.

4)    Cannabis & the Courts: Multiple high-profile lawsuits surrounding marijuana policy may play out in 2015.  For instance, Coats v. Dish Network may settle the issue of employer-sponsored marijuana testing and a Supreme Court case involving Nebraska and Oklahoma’s suing of Colorado over legalizing marijuana will indicate the willingness of federal courts to engage in this policy area.

5)    Answers to Questions About D.C.’s Marijuana Policy:  Clarity about the future of marijuana policy in Washington, D.C. will almost surely be left to the federal courts, particularly if there is congressional inaction on Initiative 71.

6)    Colorado & Washington (& Uruguay) Continue Legalization: InColorado, edibles, product testing, and homegrows will be on the agenda.  The policy challenge Washington faces is that legal weed could be too costly to lure consumers from the black market.  On the international front, Uruguay works hard to ready a bureaucracy and a consumer base for the experiment.

7)    Data, Data, Data: One key takeaway for policy advocates, both supporters and opponents, will be to patiently wait to draw conclusions as the data are currently incomplete and imperfect.  2015 will offer steady flows of data from Colorado and Washington, and eventually other states.

8)    Presidential Candidates & Cannabis: Marijuana policy will definitely be part of the 2016 conversation in a way that it has not in previous presidential campaigns. And the issue will be particularly interesting to watch as it does not fall neatly along party lines.

I think points 7 and 8 are the most interesting, dynamic and unpredictable stories to watch from among this list. I would also add to the list...

9) Political Party leaders and Pot Policy:  Key leaders of both parties inside and outside the Beltway have, to date, said relatively little about marijuana reform. Cautious "establishment" politicians --- ranging from Prez Obama to Hillary Clinton to Jerry Brown on the D side and from Mitch McConnell to John Boehner to Mitt Romney on the GOP side --- will only be able to dodge the new terms of the modern policy debate for so long.

January 8, 2015 in Current Affairs, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 24, 2014

"Merry Marijuana: Pot Sellers Woo Holiday Shoppers"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article.  Here are excerpts:

From new marijuana strains for the holidays to gift sets and pot-and-pumpkin pies, the burgeoning marijuana industry in Colorado is scrambling to get a piece of the holiday shopping dollar.  Dispensaries in many states have been offering holiday specials for medical customers for years — but this first season of open-to-all-adults marijuana sales in some states means pot shops are using more of the tricks used by traditional retailers to attract holiday shoppers....

The Grass Station in Denver is selling an ounce of marijuana for $50 — about a fifth of the cost of the next-cheapest strain at the Colorado dispensary — to the first 16 customers in line Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  That works out to less than $1 a joint for the ambitious early-rising pot shopper.  Owner Ryan Fox says his Black Friday pot is decent quality, and says he's selling below cost to attract attention and pick up some new customers....

Sweets and marijuana seem to go together like hot chocolate and marshmallows. Many dispensaries this time of year resemble a Starbucks at the mall, with holiday spices and festive music in the air.  One of the state's largest edible-pot makers, Sweet Grass Kitchen, debuted a new miniature pumpkin pie that delivers about as much punch as a medium-sized joint.  The pie joins holiday-spiced teas, minty pot confections and cannabis-infused honey oil for those who want to bake their own pot goodies at home.

Even some edibles makers that specialize in savory foods, not sweets, are putting out some sugary items for the holidays. "It just tastes too good, we had to do it," Better Baked owner Deloise Vaden said of her company's holiday line of cannabis-infused sweet-potato and pumpkin pies....

Colorado Harvest and Evergreen Apothecary timed the release of some top-shelf strains of potent pot for the holiday season. Spokeswoman Ann Dickerson says they're "sort of like the best bourbon or Scotch that will be competing on quality, rather than price."...

For the shopper who wants to give pot but doesn't know how the recipient likes to get high, Colorado's 300 or so recreational dispensaries so far have been able to issue only handwritten gift certificates. That's because banking regulations prohibit major credit cards companies from being able to back marijuana-related gift cards the way they do for other retailers.

Just this month, a Colorado company started offering pot shops a branded gift card they can sell just like other retailers. The cards are in eight Denver dispensaries so far, and coming soon will be loyalty cards similar to grocery-store loyalty cards that track purchases and can be used to suggest sales or new products to frequent shoppers.

November 24, 2014 in Food and Drink, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

NY Times debates "Is ‘Big Marijuana’ Inevitable?"

I am intrigued and pleased to see that the Room for Debate section of the New York Times has gathered some of the leading advocates in the marijuana reform debate to discuss whether and how marijuana reform ought to proceed. Here is the section's set up:

It looks like the use of recreational marijuana is heading down the path of legalization across the country. Voters in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia approved legalizing measures on Nov. 4, but with key differences. The District of Columbia, for instance, will repeal all criminal and civil penalties for personal possession and allow limited, private cultivation of the drug. Oregon on the other hand would give its Liquor Control Commission the power to regulate marijuana as it does alcohol.

Some say a profit-driven model for legalization runs the risk of increasing marijuana use, while others argue that a regulated market is the best way to keep use safe for consumers. What’s the right approach to legalizing recreational marijuana?

Here are the contributions, with links via the commentary titles:

November 18, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

New polling suggests now declining support for legalization of marijuana

As highlighted in this Washington Post Wonkblog piece, headlined "Survey: Support for legal weed drops 7 points in the past year," a few recent polls suggest a reversal of recent trends of growing support for marijuana legalization. Here are excerpts from the report (with key links preserved, and my emphasis added):

National support for legalized marijuana has slipped by seven percentage points in the past year, from 51 percent in 2013 to 44 percent today, according to the Public Religion Research InstitutePRRI asked 4,500 Americans about the intensity of their support for or opposition to legalizing marijuana.  The year-over-year drop in overall support was concentrated among those who favored marijuana legalization last year, but not strongly.  Opposition increased greatest among those who strongly opposed legal marijuana.

These numbers suggest that people who only slightly supported legalization last year have changed their minds, and that people who slightly opposed legalization now feel more strongly about it....

An October 2013 Gallup poll found strong support for marijuana legalization nationally, with 58 percent in favor and 39 percent opposed.  The PRRI and Gallup numbers are not directly comparable, since the questions were worded differently in each survey.  Moreover, survey responses on marijuana legalization tend to be highly sensitive to particular question wording.

Still, the year-over-year drop within this one poll is significant and well outside the poll's 1.8 point margin of error.  If other surveys show similar findings, it could mean that Americans generally don't like the news coming out of Colorado and Washington - even if that news has been largely positive.

I have emphasized an important line in this discussion of this latest poll data because I think all polling on marijuana reform can be subject to a lot of varied responses among a significant number of folks who are not strongly for or strongly against reform in principle.  Thus, I tend to view polling on specific ballot proposals in specific states as more important than broad national polls on these matters.  But every bit for data about public opinion on this fast-evolving issue is still notable and potentially consequential.

September 23, 2014 in Current Affairs, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

In new ad campaign, "Marijuana Industry Battling Stoner Stereotypes"

Crprintad_sep2014bThe title of this post is drawn from the headline of this notable new AP article.  Here are excerpts:

Tired of Cheech & Chong pot jokes and ominous anti-drug campaigns, the marijuana industry and activists are starting an ad blitz in Colorado aimed at promoting moderation and the safe consumption of pot. To get their message across, they are skewering some of the old Drug War-era ads that focused on the fears of marijuana, including the famous "This is your brain on drugs" fried-egg ad from the 1980s.

They are planning posters, brochures, billboards and magazine ads to caution consumers to use the drug responsibly and warn tourists and first-timers about the potential to get sick from accidentally eating too much medical-grade pot. "So far, every campaign designed to educate the public about marijuana has relied on fear-mongering and insulting marijuana users," said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation's biggest pot-policy advocacy group.

The MPP plans to unveil a billboard on Wednesday on a west Denver street where many pot shops are located that shows a woman slumped in a hotel room with the tagline: "Don't let a candy bar ruin your vacation." It's an allusion to Maureen Dowd, a New York Times columnist who got sick from eating one on a visit to write about pot.

The campaign is a direct response to the state's post-legalization marijuana-education efforts. One of them is intended to prevent stoned driving and shows men zoning out while trying to play basketball, light a grill or hang a television. Many in the industry said the ads showed stereotypical stoners instead of average adults.

Even more concerning to activists is a youth-education campaign that relies on a human-sized cage and the message, "Don't Be a Lab Rat," along with warnings about pot and developing brains. The cage in Denver has been repeatedly vandalized. At least one school district rejected the traveling exhibit, saying it was well-intentioned but inappropriate.

"To me, that's not really any different than Nancy Reagan saying 'Just Say No,'" said Tim Cullen, co-owner of four marijuana dispensaries and a critic of the "lab rat" campaign, referring to the former first lady's effort to combat drug use....

The advocacy ads tackle anti-drug messaging from year past. Inside pictures of old TV sets are images from historic ads. Along with the fried-egg one is an image from one ad of a father finding his son's drug stash and demanding to know who taught him to use it. The kid answers: "You, all right! I learned it by watching you!"

The print ad concludes, "Decades of fear-mongering and condescending anti-marijuana ads have not taught us anything about the substance or made anyone safer." It then directs viewers to consumeresposibly.org, which is patterned after the alcohol industry's "Drink Responsibly" campaign.

September 17, 2014 in Current Affairs, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"Washington's Marijuana Legalization Grows Knowledge, Not Just Pot"

The title of this post is the title of this terrific new Brookings research paper which takes a close look at Washington state’s early experience in legalization of recreational marijuana. Here is how the report is summarized on the Brookings website:

Voters in Washington state decided in November 2012 to legalize marijuana in their state, inspired by a campaign that emphasized minimizing the drug’s social costs and tightly controlling the legal recreational market. Joined to this drug policy experiment is a second innovative experiment that emphasizes knowledge: the state will fund and develop tools necessary to understand the impact of legalization on Washington’s law enforcement officials, communities, and public health.

This second reform, though less heralded than the attention-grabbing fact of legalization, is in many ways just as bold. Washington’s government is taking its role as a laboratory of democracy very seriously, tuning up its laboratory equipment and devoting resources to tracking its experiment in an unusually meticulous way, with lessons that extend well beyond drug policy.

Brookings’ Philip Wallach interviewed advocates, researchers, and government policymakers in Washington to learn about the state’s novel approach. In this report, he highlights several noteworthy features:

  • Building a funding source for research directly into the law: a portion of the excise tax revenues from marijuana sales will fund research on the reform’s effects and on how its social costs can be effectively mitigated.
  • Bringing to bear many perspectives on legalization by coordinating research efforts across multiple state agencies, including the Department of Social and Health Services, the Department of Health, and the Liquor Control Board.
  • Mandating a cost-benefit analysis by the state’s in-house think tank, which will be nearly unprecedented in its scope and duration.

Wallach makes a number of suggestions to ensure that Washington’s knowledge experiment can be made to work, including:

  • Ensure political independence for researchers, both by pressuring politicians to allow them to do their work and by encouraging the researchers themselves to refrain from making political recommendations
  • Gather and translate research into forms usable by policymakers
  • Counter misinformation with claims of confident uncertainty
  • Have realistic expectations about the timeline for empirical learning, which means cultivating patience over the next few years
  • Specify which reliable metrics would indicate success or failure of legalization

August 26, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

"Medical Marijuana Research Hits Wall of U.S. Law"

Shutterstock_93947695The title of this post is the headline of this front-page New York Times article.  Here are excerpts:

Nearly four years ago, Dr. Sue Sisley, a psychiatrist at the University of Arizona, sought federal approval to study marijuana’s effectiveness in treating military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.   She had no idea how difficult it would be.

The proposal, which has the support of veterans groups, was hung up at several regulatory stages, requiring the research’s private sponsor to resubmit multiple times. After the proposed study received final approval in March from federal health officials, the lone federal supplier of research marijuana said it did not have the strains the study needed and would have to grow more — potentially delaying the project until at least early next year.

Then, in June, the university fired Dr. Sisley, later citing funding and reorganization issues.   But Dr. Sisley is convinced the real reason was her outspoken support for marijuana research.   “They could never get comfortable with the idea of this controversial, high-profile research happening on campus,” she said.

Dr. Sisley’s case is an extreme example of the obstacles and frustrations scientists face in trying to study the medical uses of marijuana.  Dating back to 1999, the Department of Health and Human Services has indicated it does not see much potential for developing marijuana in smoked form into an approved prescription drug....

Scientists say this position has had a chilling effect on marijuana research.  Though more than one million people are thought to use the drug to treat ailments ranging from cancer to seizures to hepatitis C and chronic pain, there are few rigorous studies showing whether the drug is a fruitful treatment for those or any other conditions.  A major reason is this:  The federal government categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the most restrictive of five groups established by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.  Drugs in this category — including heroin, LSD, peyote and Ecstasy — are considered to have no accepted medical use in the United States and a high potential for abuse, and are subject to tight restrictions on scientific study.

In the case of marijuana, those restrictions are even greater than for other controlled substances....  To obtain the drug legally, researchers like Dr. Sisley must apply to the Food and Drug Administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse — which, citing a 1961 treaty obligation, administers the only legal source of the drug for federally sanctioned research, at the University of Mississippi.  Dr. Sisley’s proposed study also had to undergo an additional layer of review from the Public Health Service that is not required for other controlled substances in such research.

The process is so cumbersome that a growing number of elected state officials, medical experts and members of Congress have started calling for loosening the restrictions.  In June, a letter signed by 30 members of Congress, including four Republicans, called the extra scrutiny of marijuana projects “unnecessary,” saying that research “has often been hampered by federal barriers.”

“It defies logic in this day and age that marijuana is still in Schedule 1 alongside heroin and LSD when there is so much testimony to what relief medical marijuana can bring,” Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island said in an interview.  In late 2011, he and the governor of Washington at the time, Christine O. Gregoire, filed a petition asking the federal government to place the drug in a lower category.  The petition is still pending with the D.E.A.

Despite the mounting push, there is little evidence that either Congress or the Obama administration will change marijuana’s status soon.  In public statements, D.E.A. officials have made their displeasure known about states’ legalizing medical and recreational marijuana.

August 10, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

"Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Working Paper coming from the non-profit National Bureau of Economic Research authored by D. Mark Anderson, Benjamin Hansen and Daniel Rees. Here is the abstract:

While at least a dozen state legislatures in the United States have recently considered bills to allow the consumption of marijuana for medicinal purposes, the federal government is intensifying its efforts to close medical marijuana dispensaries.  Federal officials contend that the legalization of medical marijuana encourages teenagers to use marijuana and have targeted dispensaries operating within 1,000 feet of schools, parks and playgrounds.  Using data from the national and state Youth Risk Behavior Surveys, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 and the Treatment Episode Data Set, we estimate the relationship between medical marijuana laws and marijuana use.  Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that legalization leads to increased use of marijuana by teenagers.

August 3, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Interesting history as New York Times highlights its "the Editorial Board's changing view of marijuana over six decades"

As part of its new editorial series in support of repealing marijuana prohibition (basics here), the New York Times has this fascinating page titled "Evolving on Marijuana," which provides key quotes from key editorials about marijuana law and policy over the last 50 years. Here are some of the highlights of this interesting history:

1966:  Experience has tragically demonstrated that marijuana is not "harmless."... For a considerable number of young people who try it, it is the first step down the fateful road to heroin.

1969:  The law should surely make a distinction between soft and hard drugs.... For the nation to lapse merely into a simplistic crack-down in reaction to the terribly complicated drug problem would only be, in its own way, to freak out."

1969: Simple possession of LSD ... calls for a maximum sentence of only one year, as against ten for marijuana.... The discrepancy is as glaring as it is absurd. How will anyone know what the restriction on marijuana should be until there is the kind of objective, authoritative report that has been called for by Senator Moss of Utah and Representative Koch of New York?

1970: The nation deserves better answers to the questions about pot. Is it really harmful? Should the law continue to treat it in the same manner as heroin? ... Few substances have been so flatly banned and yet so widely used as marijuana, so much discussed and yet so little researched.

1971: Marijuana is not a “narcotic”... At the same time, it is a dangerous drug.... if marijuana is dangerous, the law must reflect this fact. The subcommittee’s report wisely suggests that both use and sale should remain criminal offenses, although punishable by reduced penalties, especially in the case of first-time offenders and experimenters.

1972:  ... the dangers inherent in smoking marijuana appear to be less than previously assumed. ... What is immediately called for is a sharp scaling down of marijuana penalties, elimination of criminal sanctions for its use or possession and reduction of penalties for its small-quantity sales. A failure of legislatures to base legal sanctions on the best medical evidence available can only undermine respect for the law.

1978:  Marijuana shows great, but not fully proven, potential as a therapeutic agent. ... Marijuana boosters want it legalized immediately for widespread medical use. That would be premature. The need now is for accelerated research to define its medical value. Yet progress has been greatly slowed by the drug's lingering notoriety.

1982:  The sweet-acrid scent of marijuana is everywhere these days... According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, roughly 30 million Americans smoke it regularly. ... Like it or not, marijuana is here to stay. Some day, some way, a prohibition so unenforceable and so widely flouted must give way to reality.

1996:  It is difficult to dismiss the testimony from many seriously ill patients ... that marijuana can ease pain... ... It ought to be possible to regulate marijuana as a prescription drug if it is found to be of legitimate benefit for sick people.

2012:  Millions of people have been arrested under the policy for minor violations, like possession of small amounts of marijuana. And one thing is beyond dispute: this arrest-first policy has filled the courts to bursting with first-time, minor offenders who do not belong there and wreaked havoc with people's lives.

2013:  On marijuana policy, there’s a rift between the federal government and the states. … The Justice Department has taken a step toward figuring out this peculiar dance between the federal government and the states. If it wants its “trust but verify” approach to work, it will have to start filling in the details.

2013:  Assuming the argument that alcohol and marijuana are “substitutes” bears out, that could be good news, especially for road safety. Of the two substances, alcohol is far more hazardous. For the most part, marijuana-intoxicated drivers show only modest impairments on road tests. Several studies have suggested that drivers under the influence of marijuana actually overestimate their impairment.

2014:  On New Year’s Day, government-licensed recreational marijuana shops opened in Colorado ... Later in 2014, marijuana retailers will open in Washington State.  As public opinion shifts away from prohibition, these two states will serve as test cases for full-on legalization.

July 30, 2014 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

New York Times now advocating: "Repeal Prohibition, Again"

NYTThe title of this post is the headline in this (historic?) new New York Times editorial calling for the legalization of marijuana.  Here are excerpts:

It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.

There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.

We considered whether it would be best for Washington to hold back while the states continued experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties, or even simply legalizing all use. Nearly three-quarters of the states have done one of these.

But that would leave their citizens vulnerable to the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House and chooses to enforce or not enforce the federal law.

The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.

There is honest debate among scientists about the health effects of marijuana, but we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco....

There are legitimate concerns about marijuana on the development of adolescent brains. For that reason, we advocate the prohibition of sales to people under 21.

Creating systems for regulating manufacture, sale and marketing will be complex. But those problems are solvable, and would have long been dealt with had we as a nation not clung to the decision to make marijuana production and use a federal crime.

In coming days, we will publish articles by members of the Editorial Board and supplementary material that will examine these questions. We invite readers to offer their ideas, and we will report back on their responses, pro and con.

We recognize that this Congress is as unlikely to take action on marijuana as it has been on other big issues. But it is long past time to repeal this version of Prohibition.

In addition, today's New York Times has these related signed editorial pieces to kick off its series of coverage:

July 27, 2014 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)